Friday, April 29, 2011

Leftovers - Roasted Chicken, Mexican Style

Yesterday after work/daycare, Lorelei and I stopped at the store to pick up some milk and and other things for the house.  As I wandered the isles wondering what the heck I was going to do for dinner, I remembered that time was ticking on the leftover roasted chicken I had bought three days ago.  I've been having a hankering for tacos, so I decided to attempt making them at home.*

I bought some corn tortillas, cheddar cheese, a lime, a packet of taco seasoning, some mild, dried chiles, and hoped for the best.  (Now, I know that taco seasoning and cheddar cheese aren't traditional Mexican ingredients, but being a novice taco maker, I let those facts slide this time.)

When we walked in the door, Lorelei insisted that we go for a walk.  It was a nice evening and I thought it would be a good idea.

So, I quickly chopped up an onion and sauteed it in a stew pot.  Then I put the chicken pieces on top of that (wings, legs, and a breast) and covered it all with chicken stock and water, added some salt, 1tbsp. of the taco seasoning, a bunch of cilantro, and two of the dried chiles that I had stemmed and seeded (I left them in big pieces so that they could be easily pulled out).  With a final squeeze of lime on top, I covered the pot and set it to boil.

As the mixture came to a boil, I changed out of my work clothes and put the rest of the groceries away.  When we were all ready to go on our walk, I turned the heat down to Medium-low and off we went.

We returned about thirty minutes later and the house smelled amazing!  I strained the juices from the meat and bones, reserving the juices, then pulled out all of the bones, skin and gristle leaving just the well-seasoned meat.  

I then steamed the tortillas, and assembled the tacos:
- Meat
- Grated cheddar
- Sour Cream
- Fresh Cilantro leaves
- A sprinkle of salt
- And a squeeze of lime

As we ate our dinner, I thought to myself, "Yum!  And just in time for Cinco de Mayo!"

I was really pleased with the results, and so was Lorelei.  She said, "Mmmm, good job Mama!  Tacos.  Num!"

That's all the praise I need.

Mom's Tip
Tacos are messy business.  For little kids, be sure to strain the chicken well before assembling the tacos... or do what I did and forget totally that they were messy and let the kid have at it!! 


*Ingredients will be emboldened for your ease.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Here's a Tip - Smell the Milk

It was a sour morning in our house today.  Being only three days after the sell-by date on our gallon of milk, I didn't think to smell the contents.  As a result I ended up throwing out:

- One glass of milk
- Two bowls of what would have been awesome oatmeal
- And (worst of all) my first cup of coffee.

I may not recover. 

I guess I'll soothe my nerves with this amazing song by Ella Fitzgerald.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nobody Takes my Cheese!!

I live on a tight budget, but from time to time I splurge ($2-4) on a little slice of really good cheese.  The other day I was savoring a sliver of yumminess when Lorelei asked me for some.  At first I said no because she's been a little off cheese lately, but then she said the magic word, "Peeeeeeez!" 

Needless to say, I caved.  I gave her a morsel which she immediately spit out and handed back to me.

My response?  "Nope. No Way. Huh Uh!  You asked for it, you're going to eat it."  At this point I gave her two options, "Eat it or Time Out."

She thought about it for a moment then reluctantly ate it.  Yes friends, she loved it and asked for more.

The moral of the story?  It's never too early to teach your kids that food, like their toys, has value and is not to be wasted.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cookin' Chicken

We just got home from our friends' house where we had a great dinner of chicken and broccoli.  What an easy, awesome, all-three-kid-loved dinner!!  Thank you Heidi!!  I realized on our way home, though, that I have yet to share my method of cooking up a chicken breast that is easy, efficient, and T.A.S.T.Y!!  It's a definite weeknight/people coming over recipe that I call on a lot. 

I must give all credit to my friend Chef Tom Black for showing me this method of cooking chicken breasts.  I was lucky enough to have this gorgeous chef in my home cooking for me and Lorelei a few months ago, and I'll tell you, this simple preparation seemed like a dance.  I may be a total dork and love to watch people cook too much, but the truth is, I hope I look like that when I cook.  But I digest, er, digress...

Getting this chicken ready to eat is much like the method of cooking fish that I have talked about in Friday Night Fish Night for Me & My Girl and in Measuring Time in Units of SpongeBob.  All in all, it's simple: hot pan, hot oven, just enough oil to make sure the chicken doesn't stick, an herb of your choice, and salt & pepper.  The total sum = yum.  Here's what you need for successful chicken for a chicken dinner:
- 2-3 tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 chicken breast per person, skin on (with bones if you can get it*)
- Salt & Pepper
- Any herb (optional), like oregano, tarragon, parsley, rosemary, you name it

- Preheat your oven to 475º
- Salt and pepper your chicken
- Get your pan pretty damned hot over Medium High Heat (where the oil is rippling in the pan but not smoking**)
- When your pan is good and hot, gently place the chicken skin-side down in the oil and immediately give the pan a good shake to make certain that the skin doesn't stick.  Let the meat cook for about 5-8 minutes then flip to show the skin-side up.  Shake the pan again to ensure that the meat doesn't stick either.
- At this point, the skin should be a nice golden color and look as though it's beginning to crisp.
- This would be when I would add the herbs (Honestly, I wasn't watching when Tom added his herbs, but this has worked for me, so do this. ;-] ) ***
- Place the pan of chicken in the oven and set your timer for 10 minutes (if you're cooking for a group, transfer the chicken breasts to a larger, heavy-bottomed roasting pan that has been well oiled.) 
- At 10 minutes, pull out the pan to baste the chicken with the juices that have accumulated in the bottom of the pan.  This will ensure that the flavors of the herbs are getting onto the meat and it will keep everything nice and tender.
- Set the timer for another 5 minutes.
- When that sucker goes off it's (probably****) time to take the chicken out of the oven.

Let the meat stand for 5 minutes or so before you serve it to be certain that the juices have stopped flowing and will stay in the meat as opposed to flowing out in a gush when out cut into it.  Serve with steamed broccoli, baked potato, rice, you name it!


Mom's Tip
Read the following asterisks.  There's some good stuff there!!

And now for the Asterisks

*I used to buy chicken breasts that had been boned and skinned with the impression that they were better for me.  I've learned, though, that roasting chicken with the skin on helps keep in the juices, you get tons of flavor, and if you don't eat it, there is little to no added fat.  Also, if you buy the breasts bone-in, it's a) cheaper and b) you can throw the bones in the freezer for making stock another day, making it an even better bargain because you're creating two if not three to four more uses out of the one purchase.  AWESOME!!

** If you have to turn your back to save a small child from choking on something and turn around to see the pan smoking, don't worry.  Let it cool off and continue.  If the oil is black or noticeably different looking, just start over.  No worries.  By the way, it goes without saying that it's best NOT to turn your back on a pan of hot oil on the stove... just sayin'.  We may be busy, but safety is much more important.

*** This is also the time when I have added sliced fennel bulb, fresh garlic sprouts, sliced leeks, anything that might roast in 10-15 minutes.  This is a great way to easily cook up some veggies.

****I have a meat thermometer in my kitchen.  From time to time, when I have a big chicken breast that I'm not sure is done cooking by sight or touch, I'll check the temp (read the instructions for proper use) to see where I stand.  It's good to know that when meat comes out of the oven the temperature will keep rising for at least a couple of minutes.  Standard safety temps say that poultry need to be at 165º to be safe, but that doesn't mean straight out of the oven.  If you let that bird cook until it measures 165º out of the gate,  it is going to be dry, dry, dry, dry!!  If you must check the temp for your own personal comfort, pull it out at around 155º or so.  Let it stand for 5-10 minutes and check it again.  As long as it reaches and rests at 165º, you'll be just fine.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Measuring Time in Units of SpongeBob

It's finally warming up in Seattle and Kickball season is in full swing at the ball field two doors down from us.  Yesterday evening Lorelei and I took up our posts on the bleachers and cheered on any team that was running, or kicking, or being silly at the time.  After a while, though, we needed to get some dinner in our bellies.  I convinced Lorelei to come back to the house for one SpongeBob episode and then we would come right back to watch more of the game.

So, my time was set.  I had the length of one SpongeBob episode (about 15 minutes on OnDemand) to get dinner cooked and back out the door for a picnic dinner at the field.  I had some salmon that needed to be cooked and tons of broccoli, so I preheated the oven to 500º and got a pot of salted water boiling.  Then I cooked the salmon the same way I described in my blog post Friday Night Fish for Me & My Baby; salt & pepper, screaming hot pan, give it a good shake to make sure it doesn't stick to the pan, throw it in the oven for 5-10 minutes, et voilà!  This time, though, I scattered some thinly sliced fennel bulb on top of the fish before putting it in the oven to give it some good flavor and get us some more veggies in our diet. 

By the time the fish was in the oven, the water was boiling and the broccoli was cooking away.  I pulled out a Pyrex dish, and threw a couple of forks and napkins in my pocket.  When the broccoli was tender to the poke of a knife, I poured it into a strainer and set it aside to drain well.  Then, I pulled the fish out of the oven and put it into my Pyrex dish, added the broccoli with a drizzle of olive oil and some Parmesan cheese, and went to the TV to turn off the ending credits to the show.

In just over 15 minutes, we had a hot, healthy dinner and were back at the ball field enjoying our lovely spring evening, thanks, in some part, to SpongeBob.


Friday, April 15, 2011

To Bar or Not To Bar

I always try and have some kind of snack for Lorelei when I pick her up from daycare.  I tend to switch it up so as to not build expectations; some days fruit, some days a hunk of freshly baked bread, or a cookie or Nutella Brioche from the Italian deli, and sometimes no snack at all. 

So, the other day I gave the kid a peanut butter Cliff Bar.  Mind you, I don't tend to eat food in bar form (it's just not my kind of thing) but I wanted something quick and easy to buy.  I thought that this might be a neat snack for her; easy to handle, yummy, you know.  At first she was excited to get the package, but as soon as I opened it, she turned her nose up and said, "No mama.  Poop!!" 

"No baby.  It's peanut butter Yum.  Try it!"
"No Mama!  Yucky!"

With a wrinkled nose, and a definitive shove, the treat was rejected.

The thing that is sticking with me is that most kids Lorelei's age (2+ years) must be eating these things all of the time, and that mine is probably the odd one out because she has never been faced with a 'bar' of any kind.  Honestly, even as I write this, I have an unease in my stomach.  I don't want to talk badly about anyone, but I'm realizing that in my moment of wanting convenience, I became the parent that I never wanted to be; feeding my kid just something, anything to make my life easier.  Now, all in all, I made a good choice in the Cliff Bar (organic, natural ingredients) and at the end of the day, my kid didn't want it anyway.  But I am realizing that more parents than not are opting for the bars and conveniently packaged "food" for their kids. 

Dear parents,

It is So So So easy to feed your kids real food.  I know I'm lucky that I work in a gorgeous city with a 100+ year old farmers market smack dab in the middle of it, but even 30 seconds in the morning while you're packing their lunch, if you were to pack some grapes or some string cheese in your purse or brief case, that little snack will mean a lifetime of good choices for your kiddos. 

Be mindful of your choices, meaning what you choose to eat yourself, so that your kids will know to be mindful of theirs.  You don't have to make it like the after school lessons to be learned of 'How to be a good citizen and eat the right thing!' just be the example your kids need (and that you know that you want to be) and they will be better for it.

If you have any questions, give me a shout!!  I would be thrilled to help anyone and give them some pointers.  Fair warning though, I'm a true believer in tough love. 



Monday, April 11, 2011

"You Asked For it! You're Gunna Eat It!!!" - Dealing With the Fickle Moments

We are going through a fickle stage at our house. 

For the most part I have been ok with this, but there are times that I just will not roll with it and I say, "Damn it!  If you ask for something, you're going to eat it, or you'll have nothing at all!"  Let me tell you, I have said that to my two-year old and meant it.  Guess what, she ate 'it' (nine times out of ten). 

Now, I have admittedly made some concessions, like, "Ok, if you have four bites you can be done" or, "One bite (of the new thing) and three bites of (what you know)" and that usually works in my favor because she generally likes the new thing and was only refusing the old thing because she didn't want the new thing... WHEW!!!!

Another tactic I take to get The Child to eat is to threaten her with time out.  Yes.  I said time out.  I'll tell you what, by the time I have something cooked and on the table I Will Not have anyone tell me that they want something else for dinner, no matter how old they are.  As I've said in an earlier blog, This Is Dinner! there is no reason for parents to kowtow to their kids' fickleness.  And, if my kid doesn't eat it, the time out is FOR REAL; you CAN NEVER threaten something that you don't intend to follow through with.  They know it instantly if you don't and will play you until the end of time.  That's their job!!!

So, all in all, how do I deal with the fickle moments?  Tough love, consistence in discipline, follow through, AND the option of yogurt or apple sauce if they have shown some effort and just truly don't like the meal*.  By the way, I've decided that my kid can have yogurt or apple sauce any time she wants.  Either those or fruit or veggies.  Any time... except when it's time to be sleeping, of course.  (Water or milk if they're hungry in the middle of the night.) 

*Note: just 'cause a kid doesn't like a certain meal doesn't mean they won't like it next week or next month.  Keep at it!!  We have bad days too, huh?  ;-)

So there you have it.  A blog post from an exhausted mama and (hopefully) some good tips. 

Mom's Tip
Be strong!! Remember you're the boss!!  And, if they take two of three bites, give 'em the yogurt... and then a giant hug.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Friday Night Fish for Me & My Girl

Friday nights are generally mama/baby nights in our house.  It's the last day of a long week of us having to be apart during the days (me at work, her at daycare) and I try to spend as much time cuddling and playing with her as I can.  For that reason, we tend to eat fish on Friday nights.  Tonight it's salmon with spinach and toasted ciabatta bread.

I learned how to properly cook a piece of fish from a former Sous Chef at my restaurant, and to tell you the truth, it's pretty darned easy.  In her words,

"Get the oil* in your pan screaming, but not smoking hot, Salt and Pepper the flesh side off the fillet and put that side down in the oil.  Immediately give the pan a good shake to make sure the fish doesn't stick.  Then put the pan in a screaming hot oven and pull it out in five minutes or so, depending on the size of the fish."

Fresh out of the oven, this is what my salmon looked like following those instructions.
*I use Extra Virgin Olive Oil and use just enough to cover the bottom of the pan.

As soon as the fish was out of the oven, I put the bread in right on the rack.  I had drizzled it with olive oil, and sprinkled some salt and pepper to give it some good, crispy flavor.

I wanted some quick greens, so I took the fish out of the pan, smashed a garlic clove and threw it in the hot oil, then dumped a bag of spinach on top of that.  I turned it with some tongs in the hot oil a few times until it started to wilt, squeezed some lemon over it and added about 1/4 cup of water from the tea kettle.

By the time the spinach was done the bread was toasted and dinner was served!!

Mom's Tip

Give your kiddo a chance to season their own meal.  This meal I gave Lorelei a piece of lemon to squeeze on her fish, or her spinach, or her bread... her choice.  For other meals I let her sprinkle Parmesan cheese, pour milk on her cereal, you name it.  For little kids especially, having a sense of control over their meal really gives them a sense of ownership and pride in what they are doing.  And, chances are they'll eat more of it!!


Friday, April 8, 2011

Leftovers - Bizzarro Style

My daughter and I recently celebrated my birthday with a couple of friends at Bizzarro Italian Café in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle.  We had a great meal, lots of laughs, and they took good care of my baby girl.  I am looking forward to going back for the ambiance and the fantastic food, but mainly I'm looking forward to going back so I can recreate the meal I made with the leftovers.  YUM!!!

Note: I would have taken pictures but Lorelei and I downed it so fast there was no way.

So what were the leftovers?  One part Braised Lamb Shank with a Fig Demi-Glace and one part Duck, Duck Ravioli.

How did it manifest itself into a meal I won't soon forget?  Pasta sauce.

I wanted this sauce to develop some good flavor but didn't have an hour before dinner to let it stew, so I decided to start it the morning that I wanted to serve it for dinner.  While I was making Lorelei's lunch, I put the meat in a pot and heated it through to get the fatty juices flowing.  I let that brown for a bit then added a can of diced tomatoes, a bay leaf and some salt and pepper.  I covered the pot and let it sit on medium low heat while we got dressed and ready to go for the day.  Then, with keys in hand, I put the whole kit and kaboodle in the fridge.

After work, I stopped at the Italian deli next to my work and picked up some fresh Pappardelle (broad-cut egg noodles) and grated Parmesan cheese.  When I walked in the door and started to boil some salted water and put the sauce pan on medium heat.  Twenty minutes later, dinner was served.

Mom's Tip 

If you have the opportunity to use fresh pasta noodles, they take a fraction of the time to cook and, in my opinion, taste ten times better.  If you aren't able to make it to, or don't have an Italian deli in your neighborhood, the fresh pasta in the cooler section at the grocery store is also quite good.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pizza Bread aka A Great way to Use Day-Old Bread

Last week I found myself with company coming and not a lot in the fridge.  I took a look around and realized I had the makings for Pizza Bread.  This is a great side, especially when you've got a house full of kids.

Day old bread
Fresh Garlic
Jarred Marinara sauce
Shredded Parmesan
Grated Mozzarella
Fresh Mozzarella
Fresh Basil

First I set the oven to 375º, then cut the bread into 3/4" slices; thick enough to stand up to the toppings, but not too thick for little mouths.  I toasted them in the toaster (so that they wouldn't get soggy when I put on the sauce) then rubbed the toasted tops with a peeled, raw garlic clove.  This is a classic trick where the fresh garlic is almost grated onto the toast.  (In another application, you can drizzle it with olive oil and sprinkle it with salt and have a really tasty side for any pasta dish.)

Then, I arranged the toasted, garlic-rubbed bread on a cookie sheet and piled on the ingredients.  First the marinara sauce (leftovers from a jar I had opened for spaghetti the night before), scattered torn basil leaves over the sauce, sprinkled the grated Mozzarella, cut the fresh Mozzarella balls into 1/4's and spread them around, sprinkled the Parmesan on the top, and finished with a good dose of salt and freshly ground pepper.

Pop the cookie sheet into the oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese is light brown and bubbling.


Mom's Tip
Cut the bread into quarters for little hands and let stand for at least 5 minutes so as to not burn their little mouths.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Confession and an Important Mom's Tip

I must confess that I am on the beginning-side of learning how to manage a kitchen.  Leftovers, from time to time, are left for much (much) too long, and I seemingly "run out" of plastic storage containers only to find them buried in the bowels of the fridge.

Mom's Tip

Don't, I beg of you, for the safety of your sinuses and those of your family, leave the wonderful Lentil Salad that I wrote about in my March 20th, 2011 post Chop, Chop, Yum! in the fridge for three weeks.  Yipes!!


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Saturday Morning Calls for Biscuits and Gravy

Sometimes you have to satisfy a hankering.  This week it was biscuits and gravy.  I make this dish very rarely because it's so rich, and, truth be told, I love it so much that I used to eat it even when I was a vegetarian.  Today, however, was a special morning.  My aunt joined us for breakfast for one last visit before she moved out of the state.

After I had had my second cup of coffee, I made some simple baking powder biscuits*.

While the biscuits were baking, I started to brown the sausage.  I picked up 1/4 lb. of breakfast sausage at the butcher's counter, but I'm sure Jimmy Dean would be Ok (don't tell my butcher).

Over medium high heat, cook the meat until lightly browned.  When the fat has rendered out of the meat, sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of flour over the skillet. Stir to coat the meat with the flour. 

This will act as a pseudo-roux base; the flour will soak up the fat and when you add the milk (~ 3/4 cups of 2% or whole milk)... magic!!  Stir, stir, stir.  If it's thicker than what you want, add a little more milk.  If it's too thin, let it simmer over medium-low heat.  (Be sure to taste it if you do this for salt and pepper)

It'll thicken up and be yummy, yummy, yummy.  Don't forget to add enough salt and freshly ground pepper which are two of the corner stones for this incredible breakfast!!  This is NO Place to skimp on salt.

*Here's a Kitchen Foible for you...

Today, I followed the recipe for the Cream Biscuits in the 2006 edition of The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

This is generally a Go-To book for me, but today I found that even this fantastic cookbook a faulty recipe.  (The link here is for the 2010 edition which I'm certain has corrected the miscalculation.) 

The Cream Biscuit recipe called for 2 cups of flour to 1 1/2 cups of milk... the makings for a soupy, batter-like mixture that needed some serious mending.  By the way, I failed.  I won't tell you what I did because I wouldn't recommend it to my worst enemy.  It sure looked good for the photos though, huh?  Huh? 

The recipe that I meant to use and is always successful is Betty Crocker's Baking Powder Biscuits.  They are fluffy and flavorful.  Definitely recommended. 

Mom's Tip
Toast the hockey puck-like biscuits and butter them for snacks later in the afternoon.  With whatever leftovers you've got, grate them or pulverize them in a food processor for later bread crumb use.

Bon voyage à ma tante, et Santé